Thursday, April 25, 2013

Headed to the "Washington Marine Market"

Taking the boat up to Washington, NC this weekend for a small Nautical Expo. B and B yacht designs will be giving an afternoon presentation on Family Boat building and assembling a "Jessy" kit for all to see. Many B and B boat owners will be bringing boats down for exhibition and to help get people excited about boats.

'Jessy' a 12' runabout available as a pre-cut kit from B and B Yacht Designs

"Southbound" a Core Sound 17 on the beach at the North Carolina Challenge 2012

Recently got around to applying the name on Southbound. Thanks to Jake at Green Room Graphics for the decal. Their website is still under construction but then again so is their green room. Email Jake for all your Graphics needs. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Everglades Challenge 2013: Flamingo to Key Largo

The exciting conclusion...

We were off on a reach into the night. Tin Can channel was moving swiftly past us. We were making great time and feeling pretty good. We were very aware at this point that the Class 4 course record was within grasp but we just kept going trying not to make mistakes. Dad was on the GPS announcing adjustments to the heading and I was driving and working our big spotlight, lighting up day markers and keeping the boat in the deep part of the narrow channels...usually. We were on a reach most of the time so we only had to worry about steering to the markers with only occasional sail adjustments.

The main channels are all marked with wooden stakes anywhere from 25 to 100 yards apart depending on the straightness of the channel. They range in height from a few inches to 6 or more feet. Almost all have reflectors at the top and almost all have indicators telling which side of them you ought to pass them on. The indicators are just angled bits of wood screwed to the top which "point" to the correct side. More on those later. Sometimes a marker lacks the indicator and if the channel is curving you may not be able to tell which side to stay on until it's too late. Assuming there is enough water depth to begin with, this is the most common scenario for sailing out of the channel and into the mud. If that happens in a blow, you could be pushed farther off the channel when you raise your centerboard or rudder and strand yourself downwind of the channel with no way to sail back up into it. This is why you hear sailors tell stories of dragging their boats in Florida bay with snowshoes...yes snowshoes. Similarly, a disoriented paddler might run aground and try to get out and walk back to deeper water. The mud is soft and deep and one could easily lose their footing, lose track of the boat or paddle for an instant, and then look up to see their now unburdened vessel floating happily downwind in 3 inches of water out of reach and up shit creek. These are the kinds of situations Florida bay is known for. We always try to hug the upwind side of the channel. If you run around on the upwind side its no big deal, just allow yourself to be blown back into deep water. Of course it's impossible to follow that rule all the time especially when a marker is positioned on the edge of the downwind side of the channel and you sail to the wrong side of it.

We zipped passed Bouy Key and got on course for the Dump Key cut. The wind was still strong out of the WNW and we actually got up on plane doing 9 knots plus at some points in the flat water of the bay. The moonlight was beautiful as it reflected off the water and through the sails making them glow in the darkness. This was some of the most beautiful sailing I have ever done. We came up on Dump Key and zoomed up to the cut. As soon as we neared the cut, the wind died and it got real quiet. I shone the light down into the deeper water as we glided silently through our momentum carrying us to the other side. We saw horseshoe crabs scuttling along the bottom and marveled at the crystal clear water. It only lasted for maybe 30 seconds but it was a very memorable part of the crossing because it was in such contrast to what was all around. A different world in the middle of the bay. As soon as we exited the cut, the wind hit us and blastoff, we were doing 8 knots again away from Dump Keys.

The wind was out of the NW about 10 gusting to 12 knots. We got on our new heading across more open water to End Key and I was sawing on the sheets to keep the boat in the groove trying to keep her up on plane in a deep reach but we were going kind of slow I thought. After a while I realized we must be dragging something as our speed was down to around 6 knots. I looked back and sure enough the rudder was covered in weeds. I bore off and popped the rudder up and back down clearing it's edge. What a difference, back up to 8 knots and popping up on a plane in the puffs. But soon after this speed boosting event you could almost hear Florida bay say, "not so fast guys", as the centerboard started dragging the mud followed quickly by the rudder. Dad raised the board and I popped the rudder line but while we frantically tried to figure out which way to turn the boat came to a stop, sails still full and beautiful. It happens just that fast. We were in about 6 inches of water and we figured out that we were north of the channel and I must have sailed too high and into the shallows. Downwind was more shallow mud and we had to sail south to get back in deeper water. We raised the board and rudder fully but the bottom of the boat was already dragging the bottom and we were just slowly being blown deeper into the mud exactly what we were trying to avoid.

Fortunately in this situation, the Core Sound 20's Cat Ketch rig comes to the rescue. The split rig allows you to apply turning moments to the boat that just aren't possible with a Bermudan main and jib setup. We let the mainsail fly and sheeted in the mizzen while moving our weight to the front of the boat to free the back end and she started to rotate counter clockwise to the north and eventually almost into the wind. Then we grabbed the end of the main sprit and pushed it far out to starboard causing the main to backwind blowing the bow off and the boat kept rotating. The bow crossed through the wind and we eased the main while she spun around and presto, we were pointed back toward the channel. After sheeting in both sails (boards still up) the boat started dragging bottom but in the right direction and gaining depth with every inch. About 5 minutes after we grounded we were back in the channel, rudder down and on our way. In no time we were looking for the markers to the entrance to Twisty Mile.

I spotted the markers with the spotlight and we started winding our way through the maze. Some markers just barely above the water and some I missed completely until it was too late. We bumped over some shallow spots but luckily didn't get stuck. It's quite a twisty path (go figure) through the deep channel and the spotlight is invaluable. I could pretty clearly see where the tops of the seagrass changed the look of the clear water indicating the edge of the channel and dad updated us aloud what was ahead on the gps, left turn, right turn, which helped us to think ahead of time what sail trim would be needed, or whether or not we might need more centerboard in anticipation of a short beat. We made it through back into the deep water and on course for Jimmy channel.

Jimmy Channel came and went without incident. We were making great time and I was beginning to look for the red flashing light of the radio tower which is just behind the finish line at the Bay Cove motel. Ahh the motel, I remember thinking how nice it will be at the finish line just relaxing and sailing around. What are we going to do with ourselves we thought out loud its only monday morning. We can sail around all week! The wind was beginning to shift more easterly now and we were sailing due east on a beam reach. We planned to go through the cut just west of Stake key. We took this cut in 2011 and since it is due east of Jimmy channel we chose it again. Dad navigated us to where the entrance markers should be. "left...more left", he said as I headed up and sheeted in beating now north east. I searched for the markers with the spotlight. "Got em", I said and I steered for the two markers marking the east and west side of the Stake Key cut. The wind was right out of the N now and a bit stronger. We were close hauled and realized that we might have to tack through the narrow cut with the wind on the nose. We entered the channel and held the tack as long as possible and I could see the two markers on the other side of the cut about 20 yards away. Once we got past those we were back in the clear.

We were on a port tack but we weren't heading high enough to make it through. I don't remember exactly the moments leading up to what happened next except that I must have called for more centerboard realizing that it wasn't down all the way. With the extra board we were just going to make it. I spotted the marker and we sailed as high as we could. I cranked in the mizzen to get the last bit of height out of the tack and dad leaned out on the rail. I watched the maker clear the starboard gunwale by about 2 feet. "We made it", I said and I started to bear away on the other side of the channel but suddenly the boat started slowing down.

It all happened in about 5 seconds. The boat slowed but in a weird way and my first reaction was, "get the board up were dragging!", but before we could do anything the boat wrenched hard to starboard and I saw what was happening but could do nothing. Our spinnaker halyard which draped lifeless on the back side of the mainsail had fouled on the indicator stick of the channel marker as we passed it heeled to starboard. The halyard started to pull the boat over as we decelerated from about 6 knots, the spinnaker was now half in the water yanked out from under the side deck. The sails were still fully pressed and the mast bent back sickeningly. I heard a loud but short and hollow metal-y sound and watched the main mast snap and hit the water. The boat was relieved of the pressure and continued to spin around a full 360. We came to a stop pointed into the wind stunned at what had just happened.

In that 5 seconds, dad had been trying to get the centerboard up and wasn't even sure what had happened. He was pretty tired at this point and this was like a shot of adrenaline to us both. It was still pitch black dark and we were about 6 miles from the finish line. The wind was a steady 15 now from the NNE. I didn't skip a beat though and clicked on my headlamp and headed for the bow. "We lost the mast", I said, "lets get this rigging cleaned up and save the mainsail". Dad started untying the spaghetti of halyards, backstays and sheets and I went to the bow to drop the anchor. I got the anchor on the bottom before I realized that we were already nicely tied up to the channel marker which was now bent over about 45 degrees in the mud. I started untying from the bow and pulling in the spinnaker from the water. The spinnaker didn't like being dragged over stuff and sufferd a few 12 inch tears. We got the spinnaker stowed and pulled the mainsail down the broken mast and I pushed it back into the cockpit. The mast was bend about 15 degrees midway up but the sail came down easily. We fought with it in the wind and got it rolled up. I hauled the mast up onto the boat and we laid it across the cabin top. We got it lashed down to the bow cleat and to the top of the cabin. In no time we had the boat all sorted out. We were kicking ourselves for losing the mast and at the same time we were sad to see it go. "It was a good mast," we said as we prepared to get back underway. It was a good mast too.

After we were totally ready, I pulled up the anchor and gave us a good push off of the busted channel marker. I had some experience sailing my CS 17 under mizzen alone and after a few failed attempts I got the boat moving on a reach and slowly sheeted in and heading up until we were close hauled. It took a good bit of force on the tiller to keep her from going head to wind. A few times I sheeted in too hard and the mizzen would overpower the rudder and put us in irons. We had to backup, sheet out and get going on a reach again, and slowly turn up with plenty of boat speed to avoid a repeat. We still had about 2 miles to sail directly into the wind before we could turn onto a reach on the other side of Bottle Key. We were surprised that we were actually able to make pretty good speed and our tacks weren't that much worse that with both sails! The boat had less power sure but also a lot less windage with no main mast so it must have balanced out. Beside being difficult to tack without going into irons it wasn't that bad.

The dim light of sunrise was just starting to lighten the sky and we could see the radio tower now about 5 miles off. "We should have taken a picture!." In the excitement of the situation we had neglected to get even one picture of the mast over the side with the sail in the water. Oh well. We were doing fine, making steady progress in the stiff wind and we knew we were almost there. We were also still in disbelief that we lost the mast. I guess we won't be sailing around at the finish line afterall.

We finally got around Bottle key and cut across to the ICW. We were almost there! We were able to make it most of the way up the ICW to Bakers Cut on one tack and got ready to tack over and sail through to Buttonwood sound. With dad on the oars helping to pull we just eeked through the channel makers of the cut (staying well clear) and into the sound. This was the home stretch. We could almost see the finish line and sunrise was well underway. It was about 30 minutes to 7 and while it was too soon to think about it back in Flamingo, we realized that we really could make it in under 2 days. We had started on Saturday at 7am. Dad just kept on rowing slow and steady adding about a knot to our speed. We weaved our way through the mooring field, damaged but unbroken toward the finish and I spotted the distinctive grass roof of the hut at the Bay Cove motel. We sailed up to the dock sheltered by the trees from the wind and tied off. The time was 7:02. Two days and two minutes. Oh well, we made it.

I spent the next couple of hours cleaning out the boat and setting stuff out to dry while dad looked for signs of life. He was dead tired and no one was at the motel not even the staff. After an hour someone finally came to let us into a room. When I finished with the boat I found dad asleep on the bed. So this is what it's like for Lumpy and Bumpy and SewSew we thought. Kind of lonely, but if you finish first, I guess you have to do it alone. As happy as we were with our finish and that we could relax for a while I was kind of jealous that our trip was over so quick and everyone else was still out there, "having fun". Maybe next year I'll go a little slower? Maybe...


Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 Everglades Challenge: Cp2 to Flamingo

1:58pm. We arrived at the infamous Chokoloskee. Infamous for it's thick sticky mud. We came to a halt and since I had my drysuit on I was the obvious choice to made the trudge to the lock box. Dad hit the OK button on the spot and I made my way to the "beach". I actually didn't have too much trouble with the mud this year, just took it slow and steady and got it done. I signed the log book, filled the water bottles and threw away some trash. I was moving quickly thinking that every second we weren't moving the 17 was adding to their lead.

I made it back to the boat and we pushed off. I made sure to wash the mud off my boots before stepping into the boat. We slowly crawled away from the shallow mud steering with the sails with the boards up until we were far enough away from the mud to avoid getting stuck again. Then we turned away and headed around the island. We proceeded to navigate a carefully choreographed path south away from Chokoloskee to the entrance to Rabbit key pass. We have found it easiest for the skipper to also have control of the GPS in this area since the lag time between... "turn right", "no more right!", "RIGHT!" is just too much for the winding path through the oyster beds. With the sun in front of us and a following wind, you only get one shot at making it through without lots and lots of horrible noises produced by oysters against the thin epoxy coating that is the bottom of the boat. This year we performed as close to a textbook route through the oysters as we ever have and into the deeper pass. The current that was in our favor coming in was now raging against us in the narrow and winding mangrove channel. In some areas we were making just one boats length of progress per tack into the unrelenting wind and tide.  Fortunately we had enough width to tack out. During past years and lower tides, we have had to row through some of the narrowest sections much like the row out of Cp1. We probably put 50 or more tacks in to get out and on a heading for the point of Rabbit key.

We made it! We were on a screaming reach heading away from the islands and back into the gulf. And then we saw them. Off the starboard beam a mile or so away I spotted the CS17. They must have taken the other route to the gulf (Chokoloskee pass) and in so doing we popped out right beside them. After an hour of offing we were on the same line and running on a heading just west of dead down wind. The drag race had begun. Our average speed between Choko and Flamingo was 5.5 knots but I can assure you that we spent many of the next nine or so hours at or above 8. The wind would lighten and the 17 would pull away slowly then it would build again and we would pull them back in. We spent most of the time wing on wing but occasionally on a deep reach on starboard to keep on our rhumb line. The sun was getting dimmer and we still had to cook our dinner. In these surfing conditions we kept our weight as far back as possible and dinner had to be made in the cockpit sole. The cabin was basically off limits.  I was up for the task and did it as fast as I could. Our jetboil makes this difficult task possible because it boils water so fast. We don't have a mount for the stove so you have to hang onto it the whole time. I got the two freeze dried meals done and we took turns eating and driving.

Dad was enjoying the surfing conditions but we were both in a state of ever present alert because we were still carrying full sail in a lot of wind. Surfing is fun but you have to remind yourself that your still in a 20 foot dinghy. As Dan Neri and I joked after the race Core Sound boats feel like much bigger boats in these conditions thanks to their hull form but at any moment your situation could change dramatically, i.e., a capsize. It was getting dark now, the wind was increasing. We were still "ok" but could we do this for the rest of the night? There was no chance of sleep in these conditions. As theses things weighed in our minds another gust came and we felt a surge of speed. It pushed us onto a big swell and the boat rocketed onto a plane. The boat is smooth and easy to steer at this speed like a car on the highway, it just takes a tiny movement to maneuver down the wave. With that speed however, also comes the realization that bad things can happen just as fast. We didn't come off of plane for a long long time. Water was spraying out from the sides of the boat. The mainsail was starting to luff as the apparent wind shifted forward.  Then we finally caught up to a swell of equally large size and plunged into it from behind. The boat felt like it was going to dive like we were steering down into a hole in the water. I remember leaning back and focusing all my energy on keeping dead straight down the wave. The bow hit the swell and sliced it perfectly in half causing a wall of water to eject out from either side of the bow. All I could see in front of us was water, cabin and more water. The boat decelerated and buried itself deeper into the swell until we were now on-top of it. At this point we were once again set up to catch and surf down this swell just like the last and that is exactly what we did.

This continued a dozen more times as the the sky continued to dim. Had it not been for the steepness of the swell I'm sure we would have arrived in Flamingo by now but running into the backs of the swells was like driving over huge wet speed bumps. We could see Dan and Phil experiencing the same conditions although from our perspective, they seemed to be riding over the tops of the waves a little easier no doubt thanks to their light weight construction I thought. With darkness falling it was getting a little ridiculous, surely we couldn't do this for another 4 hours in the dark. We were tired and moving at incredible speed. Capsizing in the dark in 6 foot swells is an unpleasant thought. We plunged into another massive swell at warp speed and the boat decelerated back down to 8 knots. Right when I was ready to say, "Ok that's enough, lets reef", I looked over to our right and saw Phil and Dan had beat me to it. We followed suit right away and rounded up for a reef.

We eased the main and sheeted the mizzen in hard. Once head to wind, I pulled the rudder up as well. In higher winds we have trouble getting the boat head to wind for reefing with just the wind-vane effect of the mizzen perhaps due to the extra windage from the cabin. But with the rudder up the stern is free to swing around and the boat happily points into the wind. In this case one must take care when putting the rudder back down because your moving backward pretty fast so the rudder can get slammed hard over. I let the halyard down to the new position and slacked off on the snotter. We don't have jiffy reefing lines rigged so we have to manually insert the end of our sprit boom into the reefing clew strap. It took a couple of tries but we got it done. I went forward carefully to hook the downhaul in the new tack grommet and lash the forward reefing lines while dad tied the aft ones accessible from the cockpit. We readjusted the snotter and downhaul and were ready to go. Rudder down, main in, fall off, ease sheets and bear away.

Phil and Dan were already moving again when we got back on course and the boat felt easier and more stable with the reef. The change didn't hurt our speed though and when its past time to reef, it usually never does. We were still blasting down the swells on a plane no problem. We were pulling away from Phil and Dan and I was having trouble seeing them now. They were right behind us but the height of the swell made them only occasionally visible. We thought they must have put more than one reef in and maybe we should have done the same. I didn't really like not being able to see their lights. We had been surfing in pretty big conditions all evening but knowing that another boat was right alongside was comforting in case something bad did happen. Now it seemed we were both on our own and all the more reason for shortening sail.

The sky was crystal clear, calm and still in stark contrast to the wind and water below. The stars were out in force and I spent the next few hours steering by them. We started breaking up the distance to help us stay alert. "10 miles to Cape Sable, 5 degrees to port", dad would say, and I would shift my attention to the next bright star over. In this area the water is only about 8 feet deep but you would never guess it by the height of the swell. Incredible really, as we made the final turn around East Cape we squeezed through between the cape and the green '1A' marker. We saw a campfire on land in the darkness about 50 yards away and some flashlights jerked around in our direction. Probably not watertribers and we must have seemed like a ghost ship in the night to them. We traded the steep swells for the lumpy but flat shallow water of the sheltered bay and as soon as it calmed down we shook the reef in the main knowing that the 17 was close behind.

Dad said, "you should get some sleep, I can sail until we get to the channel", I had been at the helm practically since sunrise so I was tired but it didn't occur to me at the time that I was still ahead on sleep. I didn't argue though. in 2011 we both zonked in Florida Bay when we underestimated the crossing time and ended up rowing the last 1/4 of the bay in the wee hours in a zombie like state. We didn't want a repeat of that so I jumped in the cabin and fell immediately to sleep. I woke to dad saying "we're there" and I took back over. The wind was light and we were moving about 4 knots. I couldn't see the 17 behind us but I was sure they were there.

We turned up into the channel and immediately realized that we would have to tack to make it through. The wind was light and I held the tack as long as I could until we came to a silent stop as the centerboard hit the mud. Crap. We got going again on the other tack only to repeat the start stop maneuver a few more times. I looked back at the entrance to the channel knowing we should see them any minute and sure enough I spotted their nav lights. "There they are, coming into the channel, their right behind us!", I said. "Should I get out an oar" dad asked, "yeah", I said, "good idea", so with dad rowing on one side the added boat speed kept us going longer on that tack but again we stuck in the mud. Crap. The edges of the channel were impossible to anticipate and in the darkness, lining up the day markers to draw an imaginary line was a difficult task. They were definitely gaining on us. With dad rowing on one side and the boat stuck, we started spinning. "stop stop", i said "were just spinning around". "well, I can row on the other side" he replied as he switched oars. "yeah yeah good idea". That spun us back around and in no time we were headed back across the channel but I couldn't tack with him rowing on one side and we ended up in irons and this time backed up into the mud. Crap. "They're getting closer!", I said.  "I could row on both sides" dad said finally, and we laughed at our own stupidity. Maybe we were more tired than we thought. With both oars pulling, we easily, albeit slowly, climbed up the last half of the channel with just one more tack.

We sailed past the concrete wall and rowed through the narrow entrance into the Checkpoint. Ridgerunner was there to greet us and told us where the lockbox was. We were hoping to get in and out as fast as possible and since the Spot "OK" message is the official CP time, dad asked Ridgerunner, "Do we actually have to sign the logbook?...with a pen?". Meaning can we just use the Spot and stay in the boat. He replied, "Oh no, you can use a pencil." Dohh, it didn't really matter anyway since the Spot takes a few minutes to send the message so we signed the logbook anyway. If your Spot message fails, it's nice to be able to prove you were there anyway. Dad spoke to Ridgerunner briefly as I signed in and as soon as the Spot was done sending we were off again just after midnight.

We rowed back out and slid into the bay in the light following wind. Phil and Dan were just outside the entrance to the checkpoint and as we passed I think i said, "Man you guys are fast, good luck in the Bay". To which they replied, "You too, are you going across tonight?". "Yeah", I said. But that was all we could get across. We over analyzed the short exchange, were they not going across tonight? That hadn't really occurred to us since we never planned a stop and at this point I was pretty sure the class 4 record was within our grasp. We realized though that we had crossed the bay many times before and this was their first time. Our gps track of previous crossings combined with mental pictures made it possible for us to be confident navigating the channels in the dark. We quickly sailed out of Flamingo and turned east onto a reach. There was no sign of them leaving the CP so we assumed they were stopping. It was our race to lose.